Frontrunner Projects

Climate change and increased risks of vector-borne virus outbreaks

One of the fast-expanding global health threats is the risk of arboviral infections. Arboviruses are transmitted by mosquitos, ticks or other vectors, and the potential for outbreaks results from a complex interplay of factors. One specific driver for arbovirus emergence is related to climate effects. Increasing temperatures impact the movement of reservoir hosts, the suitability of ecosystems for vectors and viruses, and human behaviour. Another climate-related threat is the rising sea level and the increasing frequency of severe weather events. Programs preparing urban delta’s for the sea-level rise include the development of large water storage areas including wetlands. In this frontrunner project, we would like to address one or more of the following issues through a multidisciplinary approach.

What are the risks of large-scale water management solutions to protect urban deltas for arbovirus emergence? What are possible solutions?

Airborne: Predicting, measuring and quantifying airborne virus transmission

The ability to spread via the air is one of the key determinants of pandemic potential of emerging viral infections. The majority of emerging diseases come from animals and a wide diversity of viruses has been found in wildlife and livestock. Assessing what determines airborne transmission potential, and quantifying the degree of airborne spread however is notoriously difficult. In this frontrunner project we would like to address the following issue through a multidisciplinary approach.

(How) can airborne transmission potential be predicted and quantified from model studies and outbreak research?

Pandemic lessons for flood disaster preparedness

The Covid 19 pandemic has revealed many vulnerabilities in our society and systems. Decision-makers need to manage uncertain and unpredictable human behaviour, overstretched health services, incompatible coordination structures, disrupted (health) supply chains, and other critical services. Such cascading impacts on critical infrastructure, the health system and society at large are typical for disasters. This was also demonstrated during the catastrophic flooding in New Orleans.

The Netherlands invests a lot in the prevention of flood disasters but has paid much less attention to flood disaster preparedness. In this frontrunner project, we would like to address the following issues through a multidisciplinary approach:

What is the impact of a large scale flood on the health system, and how can health care continuity be ensured and optimized?

Which coordination and organizational arrangements would be recommended to improve health care continuity as part of flood disaster preparedness?

Towards social and urban resilience for pandemics and disasters

Resilience is the ability of a person, household, community or region to withstand, adapt and quickly recover from stresses and shocks—such as those created by pandemics and disasters. Resilience is not only the ability to withstand and cope with challenges but also to undergo transitions in a sustainable, fair, and democratic manner. Disasters, health crises and measures taken to mitigate harm and risks often hit disadvantaged members of society the hardest. Taking lessons on the differential susceptibility to COVID-19 and on the differential impact of COVID-19 measures (e.g. by gender, class, age, migration background), the aim is to answer the following question:

How to ensure that social and urban conditions are able to mitigate the impacts of pandemics and disasters that increase inequalities among social groups?

Integrated early-warning surveillance methods and tools

One of the pillars of preparedness is a well-functioning early warning system. As most emerging diseases come from animal reservoirs, early warning focusing on detection of changes in the ecology of diseases in wildlife or livestock could potentially prevent outbreaks. In addition, hidden circulation in communities can be detected through syndromic surveillance supplemented with routine clinical testing and sewage, air, and dust testing. The use of catch-all techniques like metagenomics has the potential for the development of “one size fits many” surveillance systems, but targeting sampling and sensoring needs to be guided by smart design of surveillance systems. The involvement of citizens, data collection apps, and wearables shows promise but also requires new governance models that specify data uses and risks. In this frontrunner project, we would like to address one or more of the following issues through a multidisciplinary approach:

Can you design a future proof surveillance framework for early waring and tracking of pandemics?